By Kevin Sweeney
If you’ve watched college basketball this season (literally any game), you’ve seen plenty of talk about Duke’s sensational freshman class. It seems that every single game, the faces of Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and Cam Reddish are plastered on the screen at some point or another, allowing the broadcasters to salivate at the potential that group has.
While those three talented freshmen are already household names, many other talented youngsters are busy making a name for themselves on the national scene, and in the meantime establishing themselves as building blocks for the future of their programs. Here’s 10 of the best freshmen in the land:
Antoine Davis (Detroit Mercy)
Stats: 30.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.2 apg, .474/.527/.833 in 6 games
The son of new Detroit head coach Mike Davis is a high-major talent, plain and simple. Davis was originally committed to play at Houston before having a change of hear and wanting to play for his father, originally at Texas Southern and then at Detroit. Davis is shooting the ball at an absurd 53% clip from downtown at high volume and is being given the freedom to create virtually all of the Titans’ offense. UDM has rattled off 3 straight wins behind huge performances from Davis to get to .500 on the season, quite the achievement given the mess the elder Davis walked into in June.
Lamine Diane (Cal State Northridge)
Stats: 24.8 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 2.8 apg, .488/.000/.475 in 4 games
A redshirt freshman who spent his high school career at prep power Findlay Prep, Diane has been a revelation early in his tenure with the Matadors. With a new coach in Mark Gottfried taking over without much talent in hand, CSUN has relied heavily on Diane, and the Senegalese big man has responded. After opening his career with 34 points and 7 assists against New Mexico, it was clear the Matadors had something, and the production hasn’t dropped off much since. He should compete for all-conference honors in the Big West from the get-go.
Jalen Pickett (Siena)
Stats: 15.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 6.0 apg, .458/.410/.714 in 6 games
After watching him for 6 games, it’s incomprehensible that Pickett was available in mid-May. Jamion Christian certainly wasn’t complaining, quickly making the 6-4 point guard his first recruit at Siena. Not only did signing Pickett help re-establish connections between the Siena program and the elite Albany City Rocks AAU program, but it landed Christian a building block star. Pickett plays with poise beyond his years, operates smoothly in the pick and roll, and has a knack for clutch shots. He’s also a good fit for Christian’s “Mayhem” style, racking up 7 steals Saturday in a defeat to Colgate. Jackson Hoy of “The Stepien” put together a thread on why he believes that Pickett could be a sneaky NBA Draft prospect down the line:
Obi Toppin (Dayton)
Stats: 11.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.0 apg, .689/1.000/.750 in 6 games
The ultra-athletic Toppin was in the headlines this summer after video of him working out with several NBA players in New York City surfaced this summer, and Toppin has done nothing to quell the hype since the season begun. The redshirt freshman began his UD career with 18 points and 10 rebounds against North Florida, starting in place of the injured Josh Cunningham. In the Battle 4 Atlantis, Toppin came off the bench but was impactful, posting 13 points against Virginia. He’s a star in the making in the A10.
Umoja Gibson (North Texas)
Stats: 16.0 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.8 apg, .520/.537/.808
Gibson played in a pair of games last season before suffering a season-ending injury, and has taken advantage of his second chance at a first impression thus far. In the absence of star guard Roosevelt Smart, Gibson has provided a huge scoring spark for the Mean Green. He’s an elite shooter at 54% from downtown on nearly 7 attempts per game, and is capable simply taking over games when he gets hot. Grant McCasland has a young star on his hands.
Grayson Murphy, Caleb Hollander, and Nick Muszynski (Belmont)
Stats (5 games):
Muszynski: 16.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.8 apg, .679/.000/.750
Hollander: 13.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.2 apg, .614/.565/.400
Murphy: 12.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 6.4 apg, .511/.273/.643
A trio of redshirt freshmen, Rick Byrd has a special young core at Belmont. Murphy is the prototypical PG for Byrd, a pass-first guy who makes big shots late in games. Meanwhile, a pair of impressive bigs in Muszynski and Hollander pose significant challenges for opposing defenses, with the 6-10 Muszynski an excellent passer and post scorer while Hollander is an elite floor-spacer at the stretch 4 spot. Combine this type of trio with OVC POY candidate Dylan Windler, and it’s no secret why the Bruins are 5-0 and well on their way to their 10th consecutive 20+ win season.
Neemias Queta (Utah State)
Stats: 8.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.3 apg, .588/.000/.722 in 6 games
First-year head coach Craig Smith signed Smith in late August, and the Portuguese import has been a game-changer for the 5-1 Aggies. Queta has been a force down low on both ends, posting a 24-point outburst against Saint Mary’s while averaging 2.5 blocks per game. Queta still needs to add weight and learn to defend without fouling, but he may have been the steal of the summer for a USU frontcourt that desperately needed reinforcements.
AJ Green (Northern Iowa)
Stats: 18.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.7 apg, .452/.341/.905 in 6 games
A top-100 recruit who chose to play for his father (a UNI assistant) over numerous high-major programs, Green has not disappointed thus far. He’s clearly the #1 scoring option for the Panthers, and also shoulders much of the ball-handling load. Green is the clear frontrunner for MVC Freshman of the Year and is well on his way to a great career in Cedar Falls.
Kendle Moore (Colorado State)
Stats: 12.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.8 apg, .518/.269/.800 in 6 games
Originally signed by Niko Medved at Drake before following Medved to CSU, Moore has been an instant-impact freshman for the Rams. The diminutive combo guard exploded for 26 points on 9-11 shooting in his first career game, and also had 17 points, 4 assists, and 5 steals against Florida Gulf Coast last week. Once he becomes a consistent 3-point shooter (after starting the season 6-8, he is just 1-18), he’ll be unguardable.
Efe Odigie (UTEP)
Stats: 14.8 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 0.6 apg, .581/.000/.615 in 5 games
Rodney Terry had to virtually build a roster from scratch when he took over for Tim Floyd at UTEP in March. While the Miners struggle through a rebuilding year as they wait for several elite transfers to become eligible, Odigie has been a steadying force on the block. Odigie followed Terry from Fresno State to UTEP and has been a double-double machine in the early stages of his career.